Sailing: Leap for Dolphin crew: British on right tack in Whitbread Round The World Race

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The Independent Online
THE deep end in ocean racing is very deep and into it have been thrown, with scant ceremony, the skipper and crew of Dolphin & Youth. They are Britain's sole entry in the Whitbread Round The World Race and they finished the first leg to Uruguay as the ninth boat in a fleet of 14, sixth of the new Whitbread 60 class.

They are reasonably happy with that, knowing their boat has deliberately been designed to suit the big downwind breezes of the second leg. The first leg, with the Doldrums in the middle, had too much light-air work for them. But they are now well behind, 36 hours adrift of their class leader, Chris Dickson, in Tokio.

They have also run up against a change of attitude. Their competitors may be ready to be genial when ashore; on the water, there will be no quarter. The boys could not believe that any would vote against them having a replacement part for some defective electronics air-dropped to them while they were racing. Nevertheless, the block went in.

But then this is not an outward-bound adventure. It is the professional league and the culture is having a rapid maturing effect on these sailors, a mixture of the disabled and young with an average age of 23.

Matt Humphries, the captain, is unstinting in his praise for Dickson. 'His performance is so impressive, flawless,' he said. 'He is in it to win, he enjoys the sailing. It stands out a mile, for me, that he is not just doing it for the money. I see him as being the pinnacle.'

In turn, the 22-year-old from Guildford said he has seen his crew's attitude change. 'We know the level we are racing against. The motivation was always there. Now we are learning what it is about. When Brooksfield, the Italian 60, went past us the boys would have none of it. We put our biggest sail up in a gale of wind and really pushed ourselves.' Dolphin was locked in a match-race for 12 days and managed to beat Brooksfield over the line by 13 minutes.

It is in this area that Humphries continues to believe he has an edge. He has confidence in his boat's ability to run fast downwind and no doubts about his crew's ability to play things right to the edge.

'There is no adventure in it any more, it's an out and out race,' he said. 'We have had to re-draw the limits. When we first sailed one of these 60s we thought in the old, seamanlike way. Now the pressure is on to push the boats to get ahead of the opposition, not because we are trying to beat the weather.'

His crew, he said, have the stamina of youth on their side. They can recover quickly and handle a lot more on minimal sleep. 'Ask any university student who can party half the night and still work the next day.' Even so, he admitted that after 24 days the crew were beginning to feel the pace.

Life changed for Humphries and his crew in the 48 hours before the start of the race in Southampton when they picked up what is believed to be pounds 200,000 of sponsorship from the sports goods equipment manufacturer, Reebok.

'We watched the project go from being underfunded to funded,' Humphries said. 'What we are learning and the rate we are learning it is leading to a new way to sail the boat. The next leg is the one we have been looking forward to. It is the one every one deep down wants to win. It is the litmus test.'

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